Spit roast doggie

The spit roast mockup at No 1
The dog wheel at No 1 Royal Crescent

Have to say l was fascinated by the wooden wheel mounted on the wall of the kitchen at No 1 Royal Crescent when l paid a recent visit.

It is the headquarters of course of Bath Preservation Society but also laid out as a Georgian house with authentically dressed rooms and modelled on the diaries of a retired Irish MP called Henry Sandford who lived there from 1776 until his death 20 years later.

Georgian elegance at No 1
Georgian elegance at No 1

There are some nice touches. The original kitchen – which was laid out in the main house – is now an educational room with a projection screen, boxes of clothes for kids of all ages to try on and where they can meet Reggie the turnspit dog.

It was apparently a big thing in the West Country to use a little dog in a wheel to turn the roasting spit.

The mechanism was an effective but cruel way of cooking your roast in an era when the welfare of animals was rarely considered.

I had been told that elsewhere in the country a weights and pulley system was used to do the same thing.

Whiskey - now stuffed and on display!
Whiskey – now stuffed and on display at Abergavenny Museum!
Whiskey's wheel of misfortune!
Whiskey’s wheel of misfortune!

Imagine my  surprise –  when visiting this year’s Abergavenny Food Festival in South Wales – to come across ‘Whiskey – the Turnspit dog who is on display in the museum at the historic town’s Norman castle.

Here visitors are told that Turnspit dogs were in use until the middle of the 19th century as a tool to save cooks in large households the effort of turning meat on a spit by hand.


Information abut 'The Turnspit' at Abergavenny Museum.
Information abut ‘The Turnspit’ at Abergavenny Museum.

The dog would have been placed in a small wheel connected to the spit and as he ran the spit would be turned.

In order not to overexert a dog with this hot and unpleasant work they were often kept in pairs, so that they could be worked in shifts.

It is believed that this is the origin of the proverb ‘every dog has his day.’

Maybe No 1 Royal Crescent in Bath might consider showing a photograph of ‘Whiskey’ who apparently is the last surviving specimen of a turnspit dog – albeit stuffed.

The breed appears to have died out with the advent of mechanisation in the kitchen.